Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Community- A lesson from Prison

Who can I confied in? Who will I allow to speak into my life? Who will say those things that I need to hear?
Community is a concept many of us like much more than the reality. From my own experience as long as things are good we enjoy people, we enjoy others speaking into our life for encouragement or helping with wisdom. We like it when we are affirmed that we are making the right choices.
What happens when we aren't making the right choices? Being misguided is somethign that we as humans are very good at. It is very easy for us in our minds to convince ourselves that something is a great concept when reality it is not.
I have had some "great" ideas and concepts in my lifetime, great inventions, ideas that could save the world. No I have not won the nobel peace prize and the no one is calling me for advice on my vast knowledge. Of course these ideas were not great but I could not see that for myself. If left on my own my misguidings could lead to my ruin. I have grown to appriciate the wisdom and bluntness that many of those in my circle of friends have given me. It is not always fun and there have been some rough conversations through those times.
It is because of my experience in this area that I have encouraged the men in my class I teach in prison to try to find some others to find community with. In my teaching at prison I have brought this subject up numerous times only to be told that while in prison you keep to yourself and only tell what information needs to be told. If men in ISP were only staying there for a few months I could understand (I don't fully understand and this may just be one of my "great" ideas.but this is home for the next 20+ years of life for the majority of them.
I am pretty passionate about community and last week when I was talking through living a life of faith, I was asked about how I did it? I told them the gist of the above and that I had real hard time doing it on my own.
One gentleman about 40 said "man, I want to do that. But all my life I have choosen the wrong people to trust. I grew up on the streets and the people I trusted help me in making bad descisions and now I am here."
This other inmate said "when I was on the streets I use to blow everyone else off and not listen to anyone. I would punch people if they said something I didn't want to hear, but now after being in the joint for 15 years. I have allowed a few guys to speak into my life and it has helped me so much.
Looking around the room it was almost like this inmate had found the holy grail. Everone else in the class was glued to his every word. They wanted and needed this type of community but were so scared to trust.
I don't understand prison life, but I do understand the fear and not wanting to open up oursleves to others. The questions those men asked last week were not unique to prison but rather questions we ask ourselves many times. It was just a different context than most of us experience.
I had lunch with a guy last week, who told me I don't have any friends. I am in management in the business I work in, and I don't know many other people. Is this common? Probably a lot more than we realize. Community takes work,and sometimes we are too scared or too prideful to allow it to happen.

The economy- from the view of a prisoner

"I want to change, I don't want to do what I have always done. Every idea I have on how to make money is illegal."
That was the beginning of a frank and honest conversation with my class this week in prison. In a world that has kept moving while these men are paying their price for their crimes , they try and enter back into the world.
Many of these men entered prison before cell phones or the internet was such a intricate part of our fabric. They joked how the last cell phones they remember are the ones that where the size of my forarm and weighed as much as a dumbell.
These men are not just spending time paying for their crimes, they will be paying for their crimes for the rest of their lives. It is not reasonable or realistic to think that they will be getting jobs in our current economic climate. Even for those who desire to change their ways if there is a stack of a few resumes on an employers desk the one with a felony on it gets discarded first. (not that is wrong but that is reality).
I had a young african american male who was in his mid twenties look me in the eye and ask why should I even try? This kid who is mid twenties is in prison for selling drugs. He has learned how to read, and has been in programs to help himself while in prison, he will be coming out in the next year, he wil lbe joining our community. His contacts are other "street thugs(his term)", he doesn't know many "straight people."
He has done well, but he is going to be without friends, money, or anything else when he gets out. (This story is not unique). Unless something miracoulous hapens he will go right back into the same enviorment he was in. He then asked why shouldn't I spend my time trying to become a better criminal?
There was such honesty and sincerity in the question, this is all he has known. He comes from a dad who was also a criminal and his support system is not much at all.
It is up to him, he comes out of prison alone. He doesn't have a strong personality,he is shy I am sure just by my interactions with him he is a follower. He doesn't stand a chance. I do not have any ideas or formulas to solve this problem but rather help us realize that even though many people especially african american males spend time in prison pay their debt. They also reemerge into society and when they get out we do not great them with anything but disdain and so many hurdles that is almost impossible not to go back to what got them in trouble in the first place.